61 North St
Le Roy, NY
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The JELL-O Company
Orator F. Woodward, owner of the Genesee Pure Foods Company, bought the rights to JELL-O from P. B. Wait in 1899 for $450. Production of “America’s Most Famous Dessert” began in 1900 at the Genesee Pure Food Company factory located on this site. The original factory was replaced in the early 1900’s by this mission style brick building. The Genesee Pure Food Company was reorganized as the JELL-O company in 1923. In 1925, JELL-O was sold to Postum of Battle Creek Michigan. This merger resulted in the creation of the General Foods Company. Production of JELL-O in LeRoy ended in 1964.
By the LeRoy Historical Society — 1997
What was there
An 1877 map shows the property to be undeveloped at that time, and located within the boundaries of the Machpelah Cemetery, which still exists to the north today. At the junction of North Street and the railroad line (then the New York Central) was a train depot. This probably attracted Woodward to the site when seeking a place to build his factory.
The success of JELL-O can be attributed to the expertise and creativity of the Genesee Pure Foods Company’s marketing team. Already having moderate success selling “Grain-O,” a cereal-based dietary drink, the company acquired the struggling brand at a bargain price, and began marketing it with inventive ways. Beautifully decorated horse-drawn carts, full page magazine ads featuring the “JELL-O Girl,” and large colorful posters hung at storefronts complemented the primary marketing tactic: giving away samples and recipes to homemakers. JELL-O became so popular, nearly every household in America had a favorite JELL-O recipe by the 1960s.
Orator Frank Woodward was born not too far away in the small town of Bergen, Genesee County, on July 26, 1856. He worked as a stable boy and courier, and at the age of 13 began dabbling with inventions. His first success was a lice-killing nest egg for chicken coops. It was a somewhat popular product within Genesee County. Around the age of 30, he started working with patent medicines, a popular trade at the time. His business was moderately successful for over a decade, but really took off when his Grain-O drink became the company’s first national hit. Orator married Cora Talmage in 1882, and had 5 children. In 1899 he made that famous $450 purchase and acquired the JELL-O brand, but died in 1906 at the age of 49, well before it became a national dessert staple. He left the business to Cora, who served as president, who in turn passed it on to her eldest son, Ernest.
JELL-O introduced Ice Cream Powder mixes in 1904, pudding mixes in 1936, and frozen treats (Pudding Pops) in the 1980s. Over the last 100 years, the brand has released over 30 flavors of their original gelatin mix, and just as many pudding flavors.
In 1964, the popular slogan “There’s always room for JELL-O” was introduced, which was unfortunately the same time General Foods closed the LeRoy plant and shifted all production to Dover, Delaware.
What is there now
The factory still exists, and is private property. It was not in great shape as of October 2013, but signage did indicate it was home to a few small businesses.
For a time, the warehouse section of the factory was home to an indoor paintball field.
- Information on the discovery of JELL-O and the first factory
- Grain-O was marketed as an alternative to coffee and tea. It was made by soaking a mix of roasted grains in boiling water.
- Gelatin and flavoring was shipped in from other facilities and assembled into boxes here. The gelatin was not actually made here; it was just mixed with flavor and sugar, and then packaged into bags and boxes.
- The Leroy plant employed mostly women for the packaging floor of its plant.
- The plant employed about 350 people from around LeRoy.
- The plant dumped its waste right into nearby Oatka Creek, often turning the water into JELL-O colors.
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